If we accept the principle that universal human rights are worth embracing, then all human life must be included within this ideal. That's what "universal" means. Human rights begin when human life begins and ends with life's natural conclusion. Anything else is either ignorance or sophistry and bigotry." -- Mark Davis Pickup
Thursday, July 17, 2008
When child welfare isn't
I know a woman who was a foster parent until recently. She is my sister-in-law. Her foster child is 11 years old. I will not give the child’s name; let me refer to the little girl as T. Her biological mother is a drug addict. The social services department in the Canadian province where I live (Alberta) took T into foster care very early in her life. I don’t know about foster parenting where you live but foster care in Alberta has a less than stellar reputation. The chances were high T would be bumped about through numerous foster homes, then back to her bio-mom, then back into foster care and so forth. The merry-go-round with child welfare officials would begin. There’s nothing merry about it.
By the time T arrived at my sister-in-law’s home nine months ago, she had been through 27 fosters home – although the social worker initially lied at said it was 11 homes. They also understated the trauma of T’s emotional state and stunted development. It didn’t take long to detect that social services had not been exactly forthcoming about T’s case. Her emotional and spiritual scars began to surface.
It seemed that an epidemic of nose growth was sweeping through the department of social services. When the bureaucrats came clean about the number of foster homes T had been through, they also mentioned a small item about some sexual torture T experienced at the age of five. Apparently somebody took a potato peeler to T’s genitals. Social services promised help with the psychiatric support for T. Yeah right. If she hadn't received the proper counselling and care between ages five and eleven, it probably would not be a high priority.
T began to threaten my sister-in-law, stealing, lying and fantasizing about being in a gang (at eleven!). She was cruel to animals. In other words T acts out. Without the psychiatric support T desperately needed, the 28th foster placement was doomed to fail -- which it did after nine months. Social services put T in a group home. Good thinking. Not surprisingly, T ran away from the group home. After she was missing for more than a day, my sister-in-law, her former foster mom, sent out an APB into the community, when she heard about it. She contacted the police, put posters up in the community, contacted the media and basically went into panic mode. After all, T is only eleven years old. Where could she be?! I think Social Services yawned.
Eventually T went back to the group home. She has no where else to go.
Her social worker informed my sister-in-law that the department would be launching a lawsuit against her in the range of $50,000 for going public, putting up posters and going to the media ... and making the incident public. My sister-in-law was told she would never be allowed to foster again.
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Why am I relating this story? It’s all so reminiscent of my wife’s and my experience being foster parents twenty-five years ago under the same department. We fostered a four year old boy named David. In his short life he too had experienced the revolving door of foster placements, beginning in infancy. The last placement, prior to coming to my wife and I, was with a foster family headed by a cruel and sadistic man with a twenty year history of mental illness. His initials were P.F.. David lived in a virtual torture chamber from age 18 months until four years.
LIES AND COVER UP
Foster Care officials discovered their horrible mistake and removed David, then placed him with my wife and me as our first and last experience at being foster parents. They assured us his last home was “a good Christian home.” I replied, “Then why remove the child?” They responded with a bold-faced lie that the “good Christian home didn’t want him any more.” Huh?
The social worker placed David in our home without checking our references (we could have been far worse than the previous home, as far as the social services knew). They didn’t tell us about the numbers placements or the dreadful environment David came from. They were too busy covering up their colossal mistake to level with us.
MEDIA GET INVOLVED
Of course, it didn’t take long for David’s bizarre twists in behavior to start spilling the beans on the despicable cruelty of his former foster father and Alberta’s Social Services department. The department would not level with us nor provide promised psychological help for David. We eventually discovered about David’s ghastly former life by talking to the adult children and acquaintances of his former foster father, P.F.. – and went to the media. And just like my friend's experience with the child welfare authorities, we were threatened with lawsuits for embarrassing the department, and told we would never foster again. We took the threats along with names of officials who were doing the threatening to the media. They scurried under the cracks of their departmental doors, like cockroaches. The threats stopped.
PROMISES TO CHANGE
David’s appalling story received wall-to-wall news coverage and shone a bright and garish light of media attention on the department of Social Services, Foster Care program and bureaucrats scattered again under the woodwork. David’s story broke open a festering wound of ineptitude and callous corruption within the department. More cases of child abuse, neglect and even death while under the “care” of child welfare authorities. Eventually a departmental investigation was instigated. It culminated in politicians promising major reforms. Yeah right.
My sister-in-law's recent experience 25 years after my wife and mine show that things have remained the same. The child welfare department isn't.